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Updated: 18 hours 43 min ago

Parnell Brothers Taken Into Custody by Federal Marshals After Convictions

Sat, 09/20/2014 - 1:01am

On Friday, U.S. marshals escorted brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell from the C.B. King U.S. Courthouse in downtown Albany, GA, to the Crisp County Jail in Cordele, GA, where they spent their first night in prison. The two men will likely remain in the lockup until at least Monday, when they might be able to post secured bail bonds of up to $150,000 so they can be released until sentencing.

Both Stewart and Michael Parnell were convicted earlier Friday in Albany’s U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia on multiple federal felony counts stemming from a deadly Salmonella outbreak that began almost six years ago.  They were then transported to the Crisp County Jail, 44 miles to the northeast.

Stewart Parnell

A third defendant, Mary Wilkerson, the former quality control manager for the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely, GA, processing plant responsible for the Salmonella contamination, was allowed to go home. She was found guilty on one of two counts of obstruction of justice.

The 60-year-old Stewart Parnell and his 55-year-old brother were together convicted on a total of 97 federal felony counts. Upon hearing the jury verdicts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Dasher asked to have the brothers jailed until sentencing. He said that, because of their ages, the expected sentences of 27-33 years would be the equivalent of life sentences.

Dasher’s inference was that the Parnell brothers have every reason to flee before sentencing. Since their February 2013 indictment, they’ve been free on unsecured $100,000 signature bonds and also surrendered their passports. U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands gave the pair until 5 p.m. EDT Friday to come up with $150,000 bonds secured with cash or property. Neither made the deadline.

When they do bond out, they will lose certain other freedoms. Stewart Parnell’s pilot’s license was permanently revoked, and neither man will be able to travel outside their home state of Virginia without permission.

Earlier Friday, both Parnell families and Wilkerson’s met the jury verdict with emotional outbursts. Stewart Parnell simply put his head down on the defense table.

The verdict was also an emotional moment for outbreak victims and their families who have sought justice in the case. In the tight third-floor Georgia courtroom, those two groups were never far from one another during the eight-week trial that began last July 28 when prospective jurors were first summoned.

The government took 26 days during the trial to call 46 witnesses and introduced more than 1,000 documents as evidence. At no point did the government charge the defendants with being responsible for the deaths or injuries that resulted from the outbreak.

However, prosecutors did demonstrate that the PCA executives were involved in a large conspiracy involving shipments fraud and wire fraud, in addition to obstruction of justice. The government painted a picture of company officials so anxious to ship peanut butter and peanut paste that concerns about food safety fell to the wayside.

Stewart Parnell was convicted on numerous counts of putting misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce.

Prosecutors piled the evidence high with layer upon layer, showing emails, lab reports, shipping documents and other records. The government had help in the trial from two former PCA executives with whom they reached plea agreements — Samuel Lightsey, the former Blakely plant manger, and Daniel Kilgore, the former Blakely operations manger.

In their deals with the government, Lightsey will get no more than six years in jail, and Kilgore, no more than 12. Given the outcome of the trial, the two will likely serve much less time than that. Together, they testified for about 10 days and clearly delivered for the prosecution.

Jurors were likely convinced by some of the emails, especially the ones in which the Parnells seemed unmoved by whether or not any one product shipment was contaminated. “Just ship it,” read a Stewart Parnell email about a peanut load held up for a lab test. “I cannot afford to (lose) another customer.”

(Dallas Carter, Food Safety News’ courthouse observer, assisted in this report.)

Jury Verdicts: Guilty, Guilty, and Guilty in PCA Criminal Trial

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 3:05pm

Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, his brother and one-time peanut broker, Michael Parnell, and Mary Wilkerson, former quality control manager at the company’s Blakely, GA, plant, were all found guilty today by a federal jury in Albany, GA.

Sentencing will come later. Announcement of the jury verdicts brought an emotional outburst from the two Parnell families, while Stewart Parnell, age 60, simply put his head down.

Parnell, former chief executive of the now-defunct company with plants in three states producing peanut butter and peanut paste used for its own products and as an ingredient in almost 4,000 others, was convicted by the 12-member jury for his role in a deadly Salmonella outbreak that began almost six years ago.

The government accused Parnell, his brother, and the quality control manager of a mammoth conspiracy that involved fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and knowingly introducing both adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce. They said that food safety took a back seat to getting shipments out, and that Parnell did not care if product contaminated with Salmonella was delivered to customers.

While none of the defendants was charged with causing any actual illnesses or deaths, more than 700 people were sickened and nine deaths resulted from the 2008-09 outbreak that led to a four-year criminal investigation and a subsequent 76-count indictment.

The 12-member jury found Stewart Parnell guilty on 67 federal felony counts, Michael Parnell, age 55, was found guilty on 30 counts, and Wilkerson was found guilty of one of the two counts of obstruction of justice charged against her.

The convictions are enough to send both brothers to federal prison for the rest of their lives as each count carries a maximum sentence of five or 10 years. However, neither is known to have any previous convictions, and federal sentencing guidelines will come into play after a federal sentencing report is completed for each of the three.

Wilkerson faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Salmonella outbreak involving PCA was one of the most deadly in modern U.S. history, with three deaths in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia and one each in both Idaho and North Carolina. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported 714 confirmed cases in 46 states, but unreported cases likely topped 22,000.

(Dallas Carter, Food Safety News’ courthouse observer, assisted in this report.)

Dried Fish Recalled for Possible Botulism Contamination

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 1:41pm

S&S Food Import Corp. is recalling all packages of Uneviscerated Dried Roach (Vobla or Caspian Roach) with the following package code “Best Before 06.05.2015.” The product was distributed nationwide in 5-kg. boxes.

The Uneviscerated Dried Roach (Vobla) was sampled by inspectors from the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets during a routine sanitary inspection. Subsequent analysis of the product by New York State food laboratory personnel confirmed that the fish had not been properly eviscerated prior to processing.

This product may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores which can cause botulism, a serious and potentially fatal foodborne illness.

Consumers who have purchased Uneviscerated Dried Roach (Vobla) are advised not to eat it and should return the product to the place of purchase. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 718-677-6888.

The sale of uneviscerated processed fish is prohibited under New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets regulations because Clostridium botulinum spores are more likely to be concentrated in the viscera than any other portion of the fish. Uneviscerated fish have been linked to outbreaks of botulism poisoning.

Symptoms of botulism poisoning include blurred or double vision, general weakness, poor reflexes, difficulty swallowing and respiratory paralysis.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this product.

FDA Releases Four Revised FSMA Rules

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 9:14am

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published its revised provisions to four of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on Friday morning.

Certain aspects of the rules for produce safety, preventive controls for human food, preventive controls for animal food, and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) have been modified to provide more flexibility to producers and suppliers.

Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, called the decision to take comments on revised proposals before moving the final rules “a very unusual step.” He added that implementing FSMA while under strict court deadlines is an “already daunting task,” but that the reissues show the agency’s “determination to get the rules right.”

Some of the most technical challenges to implementing the Act involve the produce safety rule. In the new language, FDA changes the microbial standard for water that is directly applied during the growing of produce, proposes a tiered and more targeted approach to testing each source of untreated water, removes the nine-month interval for between application of raw manure and harvest of a crop (deferring a decision on an appropriate interval until it conducts more research), eliminates the 45-day minimum application interval for compost, and redefines a “farm” so that farms that pack or hold food from neighboring farms won’t be subject to both the produce rule and the preventive controls for human food rules.

In the preventive control rules, there is now specific language on requirements for product testing, environmental monitoring and supplier controls, and the possibility that facilities will need to address economically motivated adulteration as part of their hazard analysis.

FDA is also modifying the current good manufacturing practice regulations to make the rules more applicable to animal food. Human food processors already complying with FDA human food safety requirements won’t need to implement additional preventive controls except to prevent physical and chemical contamination when holding and distributing the by-product — a win for brewers worried that compliance would be too costly.

The original proposed rule for FSVP presented two options for required supplier verification activities. “Now we are proposing one route that is a hybrid of the two options,” Taylor said.

When there’s reason to believe that a hazard could cause serious injury or harm, annual on-site auditing will be required, but importers with well-documented supply chain management systems would be allowed to use a different approach, such as less-frequent auditing.

The agency is seeking comments for the next 75 days, but only on the revised language — not on the provisions of the previously published rules.

Scotland’s Food Safety Challenges Remain Regardless of Vote Outcome

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 1:03am

Scots will continue to have an appetite for porridge and kippers after yesterday’s independence vote, but also remaining despite the outcome are Scotland’s food safety challenges. Foodborne illnesses strike about 132,000 Scots annually, sending 2,330 to hospitals and causing about 50 deaths.

Who gets the bill for those damages — about 140 million British pounds a year — was part of what was at stake in yesterday’s historic election.

E. coli O157: H7 infections occur more often in Scotland (about 250 cases a year) than in any other area of the United Kingdom. The Lanarkshire outbreak of 1996 is especially well remembered by Scots for its 18 deaths.

Campylobacter outbreaks also occur in Scotland at a higher rate than they do in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

Scotland’s food and beverage, food manufacturing, agricultural, sea fishing and aquaculture industries contribute more than 12 billion pounds to the UK economy and employ more than 113,000 Scots.

Scots have their own problem with obesity and poor diets. Bakery, fish, meat, and dairy processing are significant sectors in Scotland. However, the country’s fruit and vegetable processing is tiny at just 0.5 percent of its total food manufacturing.

The Operation Groups of UK’s Food Safety Agency (FSA) began transferring line management responsibility for operations staff in Scotland to FSA in Scotland back in October 2012.

Also, the director of FSA in Scotland began chairing the Scottish Meat Delivery Group for more local control over meat operations. Since late 2013, the Scottish government has worked on establishing a new food regulatory body.

“The new food body for Scotland is being established that will be responsible for food safety, food standards, nutrition, food labeling, and meat inspection policy and operational delivery,” according to FSA.

Tim Bennett, FSA’s interim chairman, wrote a Scottish lawmaker in late 2013 suggesting some “safeguards” that might be considered to ensure that the new food oversight entity is independent. One idea advanced by Bennett was to make sure the new food entity can publish information “without first seeking the permission of (government) Ministers.” Also, Bennett wants non-executive appointments to represent the public interest, “not a particular group or organization.”

Finally, Bennett, who is Welsh, sought assurances that FSA would have a close and cooperative relationship with a new Scottish food body. Yesterday’s election will probably go along way toward determining if that happens, or not.

Crest’s Parent Company Plans to Phase Out Microbeads in Toothpaste

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 1:02am

A dental hygienist’s concern about the tiny blue dots she kept seeing in people’s mouths has led to an announcement from the parent company of Crest toothpaste that it will start phasing out the controversial ingredient over the next six months.

Trish Walraven said she wondered what the little blue specks could be that she found along the gum lines of some patients. They are plastic microbeads made from polyethylene or polypropylene, the same materials used to make garbage bags.

“I didn’t have any clue what it was,” she said. “We thought it was a cleaning product or something that people were chewing.”

Walraven thought the public should know, so she blogged about the issue this past March on DentalBuzz.com. She also encouraged people to consider discontinuing using toothpaste containing polyethylene since she objects to it being there “for decorative purposes only.”

“This is unacceptable not only to me, but to many, many hygienists nationwide,” she wrote. “We are informing our patients. We are doing research separately and comparing notes. And until Procter & Gamble gives us a better reason as to why there is plastic in your toothpaste, we would like you to consider discontinuing the use of these products.”

Procter & Gamble (P&G), Crest’s parent company, has stated that the microbeads are FDA-approved and are used in exfoliation products and to add color to products such as chewing gum and toothpaste.

However, FDA said it has not approved microbeads for uses such as toothpaste, which it classifies as an over-the-counter drug. While the plastic material may be in contact with food, FDA has not determined that it is safe to consume.

In addition, microbeads in toothpaste are not considered an “active ingredient,” which means that FDA doesn’t monitor their use.

“By definition, food additives are for their intended use in food,” said FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura. “Toothpaste is regulated as a drug product and is not considered food.”

Regardless of regulatory status, some dentists say they don’t believe that the microbeads belong in anyone’s mouth.

“They’ll trap bacteria in the gums which leads to gingivitis, and over time that infection moves from the gum into the bone that holds your teeth and that becomes periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is scary,” said Dr. Justin Phillip, a Phoenix-area dentist.

Environmental groups have also voiced concerns because the tiny beads are not trapped in water treatment filters, wash into waterways and eventually end up in the food chain. Researchers have reportedly found microbeads of 1 millimeter and smaller in the Great Lakes.

P&G has heard from so many upset consumers that it recently said that the microbeads would be removed from affected Crest products within six months and completely gone by March 2016. The Cincinnati, OH-based company also said that its toothpastes containing the microbeads are Crest ProHealth and 3D White.

Crest products which do not contain the microbeads include Crest Whitening + Scope, Crest Baking Soda Peroxide, Crest Extra Whitening, Crest Cavity and and Crest Tartar + Whitening, P&G said.

Other firms and/or products using the microbeads are Unilever, L’Oreal’s Biotherm and Body Shop brands and Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena face scrub.

The state of Illinois has already banned products containing microbeads, and New Jersey, California, New York and Michigan could be next. In June, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sponsored a bill in Congress to end the sale or distribution of personal care products containing microbeads by Jan. 1, 2018.

 

Jury in PCA Criminal Trial Continues Deliberations Today

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 1:01am

The jury in Albany, GA, ended its first full day of deliberations on Thursday without reaching a verdict in the trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives who face a total of 111 federal felony charges.

The jury returns today to continue its work of deciding whether former PCA owner Stewart Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael, and Mary Wilkerson, PCA’s former quality control manager at its now-shuttered plant in Blakely, GA, are guilty or not guilty of charges stemming from a Salmonella outbreak that began almost six years ago.

At 1:44 p.m. last Friday, the jury was excused to pick a foreman. After completing that assignment, jury members were told they would have to suspend deliberations from Sept. 15-17 due to court and attorney scheduling conflicts. While they could have worked over this past weekend, they opted to take the five-day break.

They then returned on Thursday, deliberated for the full day, and went home without reaching a verdict. Jurors will be back this morning, working from a 71-page verdict form.

Defense closing arguments came last Friday with Stewart Parnell’s attorney, Thomas J. Bondurant Jr., taking one hour and Michael Parnell’s attorney, Ed Tolley, and Wilkerson’s attorney, Thomas Ledford, each taking about a half-hour.

The day before, Alan Dasher, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, took from 11 a.m to 4 p.m., with a couple of breaks, for the government’s closing arguments.

In addition to the verdict form, the jury is working with the exhibits and a reduced copy of the indictment against the trio.

Attorneys were called into court at 9 a.m Thursday, but later allowed to return to their hotel rooms after giving clerks their mobile numbers for use when the jury does return.

White House Calls for Action Plan to Address Antibiotic Resistance

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 5:22pm

The White House announced Thursday its plan to make the issue of antibiotic resistance a national priority.

In addition to the release of the much-anticipated President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report on antibiotic resistance requested by President Obama last year, there are three related developments.

These include an Executive Order (EO) establishing an interagency task force for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the release of the administration’s National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, and a $20-million prize, co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, for developing rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tests for identifying highly resistant bacterial infections.

“Controlling the development and spread of antibiotic resistance is a top national security and public health priority for this administration,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and assistant to the president, during a call with reporters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic-resistant infections are associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the United States each year.  Estimates of annual impact of antibiotic-resistant infections on the U.S. economy vary but have ranged as high as $20 billion in excess direct health care costs and even higher if you count lost productivity from sick days and hospitalizations.

The interagency task force will be co-chaired by the Secretaries of Defense, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services and must submit an action plan to the president by February 2015 that implements the national strategy and addresses PCAST’s recommendations.

The PCAST report recommends steps to improve surveillance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, increase the longevity of current and new antibiotics, and increase the developments of new antibiotics.

When it comes to antibiotics use on farms, the report states that, “The benefits of antibiotic use in animal agriculture, however, must be weighed carefully against the serious potential risks to human health posed by antibiotic resistance.”

Its recommendation for limiting the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is to support FDA’s new Guidances 209 and 213:

  • FDA should proceed vigorously with the implementation of these guidances, including completing its rulemaking to update the language of the Veterinary Feed Directive.
  • USDA, through its Cooperative Extension Service, should establish and lead a national education and stewardship program to assist farmers, ranchers, and animal agriculture producers across the United States in complying with these FDA guidances.
  • FDA should assess progress by monitoring changes in total sales of antibiotics in animal agriculture and, where possible, in usage of such antibiotics; and by developing and undertaking studies to assess whether decreases are observed in antibiotic resistance among farm animals.

“If the FDA guidances are not effective in mitigating the risk of antibiotic resistance associated with antibiotic use in animal agriculture, FDA should take additional measures to protect human health,” the report added.

It also recommended that alternatives to antibiotics in agriculture be developed.

“The national strategy correctly recommends improved tracking of antibiotic use and resistance in human medicine and agriculture,” said Allan Coukell, senior director of drugs and medical devices at The Pew Charitable Trusts. ”The administration has already taken steps to phase out these drugs for growth promotion in livestock. It is essential now to ensure that antibiotic use in animals is really reduced and that these important drugs are administered only in medically appropriate ways under the supervision of a veterinarian.”

Some consumer advocate groups such as Keep Antibiotics Working were frustrated that the report didn’t include “more effective” actions.

“While the Council rightly acknowledges the seriousness of antibiotic resistance and its link to antibiotic overuse, their recommendations related to animal agriculture fall dangerously short,” read a statement from the coalition. “Instead of recommending that FDA move to address overuse of antibiotics for disease prevention and the farming practices that create the need for them, the report recommends a wait and see attitude on reducing antibiotic use in food animals.”

Oregon Restaurant Ruled Out as the Source of Recent E. Coli Infections

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 2:57pm

The Lincoln County Public Health Division in Newport, OR, announced Wednesday that the restaurant in Otis, OR, where Serena Profitt, 4, and her friend, Brad Sutton, 5, shared a turkey sandwich over Labor Day weekend was not the source of E. coli infection that later killed the girl, hospitalized her friend, and may have sickened a third child.

Samples from the Roadhouse 18 Bar & Grill sent to the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory for analysis tested negative for E. coli bacteria, division officials said.

Aubrie Utter, 3, of Lebanon, OR, spent eight days in the hospital battling an E. coli infection but has reportedly recovered.

“All of the test results have come back negative and our comprehensive investigation of the establishment did not reveal a link to the reported case,” said Amy Chapman, Lincoln County Environmental Health Program Manager.

There have been no new reported cases of E. coli infection in Lincoln County since the outbreak investigation began, said Rebecca Austen, division director, adding that the investigation is continuing.

County health officials said that while the public is at “extremely low risk” of E. coli infection, people are advised to take routine preventive measures against the bacteria such as frequent hand washing, thoroughly disinfecting household surfaces (bathrooms, kitchens and play areas), avoiding cross-contamination during food preparation, washing fruits and vegetables before consuming them, and thoroughly cooking raw meat.

The two children shared more than a turkey sandwich that weekend. They also attended a birthday party at a park in Lebanon, OR, played in a pond near the South Santiam River, were around a pet goat and other animals, and ate watermelon and cupcakes purchased at the Walmart store in Lebanon.

Recent news accounts reported that the goat droppings did test positive for E. coli, but it wasn’t clear whether it was the same type as the O157:H7 strain that sickened the children.

(Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney and publisher of Food Safety News, has been retained to represent the Profitt family.)

A third child, 3-year-old Aubrie Utter of Lebanon, attended a different party at the same park that weekend, later became sick, and, after testing positive for E. coli, spent eight days at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. She has reportedly recovered.

Meanwhile, Brad Sutton was transferred from a Tacoma, WA, hospital to one in Seattle, where his condition has been upgraded from critical to satisfactory. He has been on dialysis for hemolytic uremic syndrome, a kidney disease associated with E. coli infections.

Another child, 3-year-old Brooklyn Hoksbergen of Lynden, WA, died Sept. 5 in Seattle from an E. coli infection believed to be unrelated to the other three cases. The source of her infection is still under investigation.

Could Yelp and Twitter Become Tools to Detect Foodborne Outbreaks?

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 1:03am

Social media platforms such as Yelp and Twitter have significantly altered the online landscape for restaurants. Now anyone with an Internet connection and an opinion can broadcast their thoughts to others interested in visiting.

But what if public health officials could use Yelp and Twitter to track people mentioning foodborne illnesses online to detect outbreaks at restaurants? That’s exactly what researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute say is possible today, thanks to the number of people who take to social media to mention bouts of illness after eating out.

In a new study published in Preventive Medicine, researchers studied restaurant reviews on Yelp of 5,824 food establishments dating from 2005-2012. They screened customer reviews for keywords related to foodborne illness such as “diarrhea” and “vomiting” and then analyzed every relevant review.

Then they compared information from the reviews against food outbreak data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What they found was that foodborne illnesses reported by Yelp reviewers closely matched up with CDC statistics.

Across five categories of food, the researchers found that the rates at which Yelp reviewers reported an illness and the rates of CDC’s reported illness information match up with a striking similarity:

  • Meat and Poultry (implicated in 32 percent of Yelp illnesses, 33 percent of CDC illnesses)
  • Vegetables (22 percent Yelp, 25 percent CDC)
  • Dairy and Eggs (23 percent Yelp, 23 percent CDC)
  • Seafood (16 percent Yelp, 12 percent CDC)
  • Fruits and Nuts (7 percent Yelp, 7 percent CDC)

Based on the data, the researchers believe that social media reviews could complement traditional outbreak surveillance methods by providing rapid information on suspected foodborne illnesses, the implicated foods, and the restaurants involved.

Reviews on sites such as Yelp or tweets about illnesses might assist public health authorities in detecting outbreaks earlier than would be possible using traditional methods, said Elaine Nsoesie, postdoctoral research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, and co-author of the study. When three to five customers of the same restaurant all go online to complain about getting sick, it might be a good indication that health officials should look into the situation.

“We found that the reviews were very detailed in some cases,” Nsoesie told Food Safety News. “There were several cases where people talked about going to the hospital, or talked about a group of friends getting sick after eating out — very similar to what we see with foods implicated in foodborne outbreaks.”

Still, the method isn’t perfect. Given that some foodborne infections can take two to three days for symptoms to develop, some people online may be incorrectly blaming illnesses on restaurants where they ate after they had already been exposed to the pathogen somewhere else.

But, as a tool for early detection, it could prove quite effective, Nsoesie said.

In fact, the Chicago Department of Health is already using an app called Foodborne Chicago to scan Twitter for keywords related to food poisoning. When it finds someone describing a foodborne illness incident on Twitter, it recommends that they file a report. Since March 2013, the app has catalogued more than 3,000 tweets, resulting in 193 reports.

Consumer Group Helps Calculate Safest Seafood

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 1:02am

Concerned that the government’s advice regarding seafood consumption is too simplistic, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its own consumer guide on the subject.

“The developing brain during pregnancy and in childhood is remarkably damaged by mercury and also repaired or ‘boosted’ by omega-3 fatty acids,” said EWG Senior Analyst Sonya Lunder. “Another key group of people who benefit from omega-3s are people who are at average or high risk for heart disease. The omega-3s in seafood appear to reduce stroke and heart attack risk.”

The guide just published by EWG includes a calculator for consumers to input their weight, age, gender, pregnancy status and whether they have heart disease. The user then gets a personalized list of which species to eat, which to approach with caution and which to avoid based on how much mercury and omega-3 fatty acids they contain.

Combining data from the government and independent scientists, EWG presents a weekly mercury percentage, weekly omega-3 level, and most sustainable choice for each species.

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency issued draft updated advice on fish consumption that recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children eat at least eight ounces and up to 12 ounces (two to three servings) per week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development.

The guidance includes a list different species, along with mercury and omega-3 information. It recommends that pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. In addition, it states that consumption of white (albacore) tuna should be limited to six ounces per week.

EWG agrees that many Americans would benefit from eating more seafood and that many people are at low risk for heart disease, including vegetarians and other adults with an otherwise healthy diet. But EWG disagrees with the blanket recommendation that adults should aim to eat eight to 12 ounces of fish each week. Their concern is that, if every American followed that advice, seafood consumption could triple, putting enormous pressure on global fisheries.

The group also argues that some people following the FDA/EPA guidance could consume too much mercury, and others, too few omega-3s. Many of the popular seafood species listed are low in omega-3s and “you would need to eat five or 10 servings a week to actually get enough omega-3s,” Lunder pointed out.

“If you’re eating fish instead of a cheeseburger, that’s one thing,” she added. “But if you’re choosing between salmon and shrimp, there are differences there.”

EWG also believes that the safe level of mercury established by EPA in 2001 and applied in the recommendations may actually be too high to protect developing fetuses and young children.

A major issue for the group is FDA and EPA’s tuna limit. EWG recommends a more cautious maximum of two servings of albacore tuna per month. For light tuna, they say no more than one serving a week for children and two servings for pregnant or nursing women.

“This is our best take at consumer-friendly information that highlights the real differences between seafood, and we believe that the federal agencies should provide some similar materials,” Lunder said.

Before issuing final advice this fall, the agencies are considering public comments and will seek the advice of FDA’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee in November.

Mercy Goes After Big Cheese With Video Taken at NM Dairy

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 1:01am

The Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals has a knack for uncovering animal abuse, often in isolated places, that is the kind imposing enough stress and pain to also be a food safety concern and egregious enough to bring condemnation by world-renowned animal-welfare experts.

A week ago, the group shared its latest undercover report and video with the New Mexico Livestock Board. Ray E. Baca, executive director of that state law enforcement agency, told Food Safety News the “workers’ mistreatment of dairy cattle as seen in (the) online video” is now the subject of a Livestock Board investigation.

Baca said the board “takes allegations of animal cruelty very seriously.” Upon completion of the investigation, it will make a report to the Chavez County District Attorney’s Office, which will decide if anyone should be prosecuted.

The investigation involves the Winchester Dairy located near tiny Dexter, NM, about a half-hour south of Roswell, NM. It was there that the undercover video was taken, and Mercy documents the location in a separate video released to the media showing that its operative was present at the dairy as recently as August.

Using a hidden camera, Mercy’s operative recorded workers abusing the cows, even stabbing them with screwdrivers and dragging “downer” cows with a tractor in some of the most sickening video seen since the one showing a front-end loader shoving cows into the kill box at a Chico, CA, slaughterhouse emerged in 2008. (That undercover investigation, carried out by the Humane Society of the United States, resulted in the largest beef recall in history from the supplier to the National School Lunch Program.)

Since Mercy revealed the Winchester video, the dairy fired the workers who are shown abusing cows in the video and apparently temporarily shut down operations and relocated its cows. And yesterday, Mercy launched a public relations campaign regarding the disturbing incident.

The immediate targets of the campaign are the nation’s top pizza chains such as Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. That’s because they get much of their cheese from Denver-based Leprino Foods, the world’s largest producer of mozzarella. Mercy’s website now carries its slickly produced “Slice of Cruelty” campaign aimed at sharing the sickening abuse video with activists (and consumers).

Mercy’s PR experts know their social media strategy will usually bring a response from corporate targets in fairly short order. By early afternoon on Wednesday, Leprino Foods, noting that the company “cares deeply about the health and welfare of the animals on the farms that supply our milk,” announced that because of the animal abuse, it had terminated all shipments from Winchester Dairy. “Leprino Foods is not receiving any milk from this operation,” the company said.

At the same time, Leprino expressed confidence in New Mexico dairy farmers. “This incident does not reflect the daily care and comfort that New Mexico dairy farmers provide their cows,” the Leprino statement said. “The farm has taken quick and decisive action. Information about the incident was immediately shared with the proper New Mexico authorities, who are conducting an investigation so that the individuals responsible can be held accountable for their actions.”

Meanwhile, Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Domino’s, said that while no act of cruelty can ever be condoned, this was an isolated incident at one dairy farm out of 47,000 in the U.S. He said Mercy should be thanked for bringing the behavior of the workers to light, but he also noted they have been fired, the report is being thoroughly investigated, and the dairy has moved its herd to the care of other farms.

“What we do know is it is not an issue with our cheese supplier (Leprino’s),” McIntyre said.

Mercy last mixed it up with a state’s dairy industry early this year in Idaho where it unsuccessfully opposed a new agricultural protection law designed to prevent these sorts of undercover investigations. In its attempts to prevent passage of the law, Mercy released additional video from its 2012 undercover investigation of Bettencourt Dairy showing workers sexually molesting animals.

That upset the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, which said it showed that Mercy’s goals are more about hurting the dairy industry and its brands than protecting animals.  (Update:  Although not seen by the public until 2014, a spokesman for Mercy insists the group provided Idaho law enforcement with all of the outtakes during the initial investigation.)

Bettencourt fired the five workers involved in that incident, and they were subsequently convicted of animal abuse but apparently without the molestation video ever figuring in the criminal investigation.

Release of the sexual molestation video also backfired on Mercy as the Idaho Legislature joined Utah, Iowa and Missouri in passing what critics call “ag-gag” laws making it illegal to go undercover and shoot video of animal agricultural operations without permission from the owner. (North Dakota, Montana and Kansas have earlier versions of agricultural protection laws that were passed in 1990-91.)

Idaho’s new law is currently being challenged by other animal-rights groups and media organizations for its potential violations of the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

This time, however, Mercy’s PR professionals say their video evidence “was immediately turned over” to New Mexico officials. They also vetted the serious nature of the abuse by having it reviewed by arguably the world’s best-known animal-welfare expert, Colorado State University’s Dr. Temple Grandin.

She said that kicking and shocking the cows and holding them above the ground was “definitely abusive” and that the bellowing indicated the animals were in “severe distress.” Grandin also sees the blame going beyond the fired workers to “mismanagement” for failure to provide proper training and equipment.

Nathan Runkle, the president of Mercy, blamed Leprino Foods for allowing “a culture of cruelty to flourish in its cheese supply chain.”

Livestock abuse like that depicted on the video is a misdemeanor under New Mexico law and can become a felony with repeat offenses, or if the animal cruelty involves “intentionally or maliciously torturing, mutilating, or poisoning an animal or maliciously killing an animal.”

Only after the investigation is complete will the New Mexico Livestock Board or the Chavez County District Attorney’s Office have more to say, according to Baca.

Food Poisoning Hospitalizes Actor/Director

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 1:04am

Kamal Hassan

India’s popular actor/director Kamal Hassan was admitted for food poisoning to the private Apollo Hospital early Tuesday in Chennai on the Bay of Bengal.

His manager told Indian media that Kamal was “perfectly fine” and that his release within 24 hours was expected. He had apparently developed symptoms of food poisoning early Tuesday morning.

Kamal, 59, who has appeared in more than 200 films, is currently shooting a Tamil production entitled “Papanasam.” In addition to acting, he is known for writing, directing, and producing for both film and television.

Food poisoning is caused by consuming food that is contaminated by a bacteria, usually Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, or Clostridium perfringens. The contaminated food is often prepared under unsanitary conditions.

Kamal appeared in his first film at age six. He makes films in all major Indian languages — Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. He is one of India’s most respected and revered film stars.

New FSIS Salmonella Performance Standards for Beef and Poultry Expected

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 1:03am

A top official with USDA’s Food Safety and inspection Service (FSIS) told a meat industry conference that ended Sunday in Charleston, SC, to expect new performance standards for Salmonella.

Rachel Edelstein, acting assistant administrator of the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development, told the North American Meat Association meeting that her unit is testing various species with plans to set new Salmonella performance standards in the next 12 months.

Details of Edelstein’s remarks were reported Tuesday by Meatingplace, a trade publication and web-based news site. The FSIS official said that new rules for poultry slaughter are only the first step in the agency’s Salmonella action plan.

Edelstein said that new inspection procedures, the first since 1957, “will prevent illnesses each year because inspectors will spend more time on verification activities that address food safety.”

Since June, she said FSIS has been subjecting beef samples collected for STEC testing to additional analysis for Salmonella. Those results will be used to establish new pathogen performance standards for ground beef and to measure Salmonella in ground beef and trim, according to the Meatingplace report.

The changes will be made during the next fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Edelstein said there will be a comment period before the agency takes final action.

In addition to the beef work, FSIS is developing new performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter for poultry products. Those changes are expected before the end of this calendar year. A comment period before final action was promised for the poultry standards as well.

The species testing could also result in performance standards being introduced for pork products, including pork trim and ground pork. Edelstein told the group there is evidence pork contributes to Salmonella illnesses and that improvements in sanitary dressing issues in hog slaughter could help.

NAMA, which was formed in 2012 with the merger of the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP) and the National Meat Association (NMA), is the meat industry’s largest trade group. It is based in Washington, D.C., with other offices in Ottawa, Mexico City, and Oakland, CA.

Developing Medical Device Can Filter Out Pathogens

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 1:02am

Researchers at Harvard University are developing a medical device designed to mimic the human spleen in order to fight a variety of deadly pathogens, including everything from E. coli to Ebola, according to The Washington Post.

So far, the device — called the biospleen — has proven effective at filtering at least 90 different ailments out of blood, including bacteria and fungi associated with foodborne illness.

It works by filtering infected blood using magnetic nanobeads coated with a human protein that has been genetically engineered to be optimized for fighting pathogens. The cleansed blood then gets returned back to the patient.

In rats infected with Staphylococcus aureus or E. coli, the device filtered 90 percent of the bacteria out of their blood, reduced pathogen and immune cell infiltration in multiple organs, and decreased inflammation levels.

In fact, 89 percent of rats treated with the device survived, while only 14 percent of rats survived who did not receive the treatment.

The biospleen could be a major turning point in the treatment of deadly diseases such as E. coli that can overwhelm the immune system.

The Human Face of the PCA Salmonella Outbreak

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 1:01am

(Editor’s note: These are short profiles of victims of the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corporation of America products. The jury in the PCA criminal trial is due to resume its deliberations on Thursday morning in Albany, GA.)

Shirley Almer

Shirley Almer resided in Brainerd, MN. She owned a family bowling alley in Wadena, MN, called “Wadena Lanes.” The bowling alley belonged to her husband, and, after he passed away, Shirley took over.

Shirley Almer

After suffering from seizures in July 2008, Shirley was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Shirley had been battling cancer for months before Salmonella took her life.

Shirley was hospitalized a week before Christmas due to severe dehydration. She was scheduled to be released on Dec. 22, 2008, but she passed away on Dec. 21, 2008, supposedly due to pneumonia. She was 72.

Roughly two weeks later, the Almer family received a call from the Minnesota Department of Health claiming that Shirley had Salmonella bacteria in her blood.

Shirley was one of two victims at two different Brainerd nursing homes whose deaths have been blamed on contaminated PCA peanut butter.

Minnie Borden

Minnie Borden was raised in Lanett, AL. She was a lively woman who loved Little Debbie’s Peanut Butter Cheese sandwich crackers. With the exception of her arthritis and poor hearing, Minnie was in excellent health. In the fall of 2008, Minnie began complaining of abdominal pains and noticed that her appetite was dwindling, but that did not slow her down on her favorite Little Debbie snacks.

Well into December, Minnie’s stomach pain was excruciating and she eventually called her daughter to take her to the Miami Valley Hospital Emergency Room. After blood testing, an EKG and lots of observation, nothing specific was found to be the cause of Minnie’s suffering.

Minnie Borden (left) with her daughter Earlene Carter.

Earlene Carter, Minnie’s daughter, agreed to have Minnie move in with her after Minnie was discharged from the hospital. With Earlene by Minnie’s side day and night, Earlene observed her mother’s state worsen by the day. One week later, Earlene scheduled another doctor’s appointment out of concern for her weak mother.

On Christmas Eve of 2008, doctors sent a stool sample to a lab to test for pathogens. Though the results were alarming, it was a relief to have finally found the problem. Minnie had been sickened by Salmonella Group B. On Dec. 29, Minnie was discharged after many procedures in an attempt to get her health back on track.

On the evening of Monday, Jan. 19, 2009, Earlene remembers getting ready to watch “Wheel of Fortune” with her mother in the hospital room. That night, while lying in bed after visiting with Minnie all day, Earlene received a devastating phone call about her mother. After doctors had worked on stabilizing her more than once, Minnie Borden was pronounced dead at 6:41 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2009.

Bobby Ray Hullett 

Bobby Ray Hullett was raised in Maiden, NC. He passed away at Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, NC, on Nov. 26, 2008, in his early 50s. Bobby, better known as “Pete,” and his wife, Shirley, were married for 45 years.

Working at Southern Glove Mill for 30 years, Pete suffered from an accident, leaving him with only one functioning hand. Despite this injury, Pete worked hard up until his death. Other than high blood pressure and cholesterol problems, Pete was in excellent health.

Bobby Ray “Pete” Hullett with his family.

One of Pete’s favorite snacks was Austin brand peanut butter crackers, two and three packs a day. On Nov. 23, 2008, Pete began vomiting and eventually lost consciousness and collapsed on the floor. The morning after, he was very weak when taking the trash out. Shirley called her son Tony after Pete collapsed on the floor once again.

Tony drove Pete to Catawba Valley Medical Center Emergency Room. The doctors found that Pete’s blood pressure was abnormally low and that he needed to be rehydrated.

After an EKG showed normal results, blood and urine specimens were sent to a lab for testing. The lab results were abnormal, showing decreased kidney functions and creatinine.  There was also concern about an increased amount of carbon dioxide in Pete’s bloodstream.

Around 8 p.m., Pete needed to be admitted into the hospital for treatment of kidney failure and severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Around 2 a.m., Pete’s diagnosis was listed as shock, renal failure, diarrhea with white blood cells in stools, and also respiratory failure. Two short hours later, Pete seemed to gain some strength. He was able to move his toes and fingers upon request of the nurse.

At 7 a.m., ICU physicians came to speak to Pete’s family. They explained that Pete had suffered an acute myocardial infarction with cardiogenic shock and that his diagnosis was poor. Pete was in acute renal failure, and the doctor explained that the chances of him surviving were low. After almost 24 hours of attempting to save Pete’s life, hospice spoke to Pete’s family about protocol for cardiac arrest, which they expected to occur.

Pete’s health continued to decline on Nov. 26. After being summoned into the hospital room, Pete’s family watched him gain enough strength to look at them one last time. With his family by his side, Bobby “Pete” Hullett was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2008.

Vernon Knudsen

Vernon Knudsen was raised in Onalaska, TX, and spends his time anticipating and praying that treatments, including chemotherapy, will rid him of his continuing illness. Vernon is a retired 74-year-old who lives just north of Houston, TX.

Vernon Knudsen

Vernon’s medical history includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, an irregular heartbeat and tremors. Also, Vernon has had surgeries to repair a hernia and to treat sleep apnea. Vernon keeps up with his regular checkups and takes regular medications.

On Aug. 6, 2008, Vernon began experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath. He instantly made an appointment with his doctor at the Huntsville Family Medicine Clinic. Vernon was diagnosed with cardiomegaly (enlarged heart). The doctors wanted to watch Vernon and make sure everything was correct.

On Aug. 7, Vernon had an echocardiogram and Doppler tests. The tests showed an accumulation of fluid around the heart. Three weeks passed, and Vernon’s shortness of breath continued and seemed to get worse. By the end of August, Vernon’s health had seriously declined.

He was extremely worried and called the doctor. Without hesitation, the doctor instructed Vernon to be admitted into the emergency room. Vernon was suffering from respiratory distress and was placed on a breathing machine. Vernon’s wife, Marjorie, was in a panic.

After initial diagnosis, Vernon tested positive for Salmonella. The Knudsen family was shocked and had no idea that Vernon had been sickened by Salmonella from a Keebler peanut-butter-and-cheese cracker. Vernon’s suffering continued for nine days, and then, on Sept. 5, 2008, he was sent home.

The next week, Vernon continued to suffer from abdominal pain, a cough and fever. On Sept. 23, 2008, he returned to the emergency room. Vernon then tested positive for Clostridium difficile. The next day, he was sent to the ICU. He was now suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, diarrhea, hypertension, anemia, renal insufficiency, coronary and aortic atherosclerotic disease, and he was becoming increasingly confused and disoriented.

On Sept. 30, a nurse entered Vernon’s room to find him lifeless and non-responsive. Several nurses finally were able to awaken him and then realized he was unable to speak and had difficulty swallowing.

The next day, Vernon was transferred to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. “By the time I got there, I was nearly dead,” he recalls. Vernon was eventually released and sent home. He still suffers daily and has been in and out of hospitals several times since October 2008.

Christopher Meunier

Christopher Meunier was raised in South Burlington, VT. A happy, confident, and healthy young boy who can meet any challenge, is how his parents described him. Even though it has been almost six years ago, Gabrielle and Daryl, Christopher’s parents, can still remember his bloodcurdling screams on the night of Nov. 25, 2008, when Gabrielle found her son sprawled on the floor, vomiting, choking and terrified. Twenty minutes after the vomiting came to a halt, Christopher began suffering from severe abdominal pains. Days later, his pain continued, along with nausea and diarrhea.

The Meunier family decided to take Christopher to his pediatrician. After examining Christopher, the doctor sent him home with a stool sample kit. He was in pain, dehydrated and losing blood. His mother said he was “screaming about body pain everywhere, he was doubled over and was crying out, ‘Mommy, it hurts so bad, I want to die.’”

Gabrielle and Daryl rushed their son to Fletcher Allen Health Care Emergency Room, and Christopher’s stool sample was taken in for testing. The results were positive for E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Shigella. Christopher was suffering from fever, weight loss, bloody stools, vomiting, and dozens of bouts of diarrhea a day. This went on for a week.

Though he had tested positive for Clostridium difficile, the doctors were positive that the pain and suffering was from Salmonella. The bloody bouts of diarrhea continued until Dec. 3, after he was sent home. At that point, Christopher was put on a liquid diet and several antibiotics.

Months passed, and neither Christopher nor his parents felt any better about his gastrointestinal problems. It wasn’t until May 8, 2009, that they began to feel some relief, but the fear of being infected with Salmonella will forever haunt them.

Robert Moss

Robert Moss was raised in Louisiana. He was a World War II Navy veteran and the owner of Moss Carpet and Flooring.

Robert Moss

After eating Austin-brand peanut butter crackers, Robert noticed that in October 2008 he suffered from bouts of diarrhea. He also suffered from a fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches and abdominal cramps. His symptoms seemed to worsen about Tuesday, Oct. 14. His diarrhea was now painful and more frequent, and he had lost 10 pounds by this point.

Robert refused to seek professional help, and he tried to ease his ailments with home remedies. When he finally required medical help on Oct. 16, he was suffering from kidney failure.

Robert was admitted into Glenwood Regional Medical Center Emergency Room for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and excessive fatigue. A stool sample tested positive for Salmonella on Oct. 18.

On Oct. 19, Robert was extremely ill. Blood tests showed that Salmonella had escaped his gastrointestinal tract and entered his bloodstream. Robert remained hospitalized and regularly received pain medication until Oct. 23. He continued having bouts of diarrhea until late February.

On Feb. 24, 2009, Robert was admitted to the Glenwood Regional Medical Center Emergency Room. After blood tests, Robert found out that Salmonella was still alive in his gastrointestinal tract. Ultimately, he was discharged and transferred to a rehabilitation facility on March 23, almost a month later.

Robert was readmitted to the Glenwood Regional Medical Center on April 6, discharged to an expert nursing facility on April 13, and then remained under constant medical supervision. He was admitted back to Glenwood Regional Medical Center in July 2009 due to bloody diarrhea. As the months went by, he grew weaker by the day. Robert passed away due to an infection caused by Salmonella on Oct. 4, 2009. He was 83.

Betty Shelander

Betty Shelander was raised in Blowing Rock, NC. She was a lively woman, caring and compassionate, and she had a great talent for music. Just two days after Christmas 2008, Betty began feeling extremely nauseous. Not wanting to worry her husband, she spent the night hovering over the toilet vomiting and crying. The next morning, Betty called for help. After speaking with her doctor, Betty was prescribed Phenergan suppositories for relief.

On Dec. 28, Betty began to feel better from the medicine the doctor prescribed. However, she later began feeling weak and went to lay down. Toward the end of the afternoon, Betty’s husband, Albert, went to check on her. Mortified, he found Betty on the floor and her eyes wide open with a blank stare. Albert tried to resurrect Betty, but without success.

After he called 911, an ambulance arrived and rushed Betty to Southeast Georgia Regional Health Center. She had no pulse when they arrived. The Emergency Room staff worked on Betty for 17 minutes, but, after no response, she was declared dead at 5:07 p.m. on Dec. 28, 2008. She was 53. The cause of death was pancreatitis.

According to Dr. Hanley, a medical examiner, Betty had regularly consumed Zone Perfect nutritional bars. Hanley also revealed that the most apparent cause of acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis was a Salmonella infection from consuming a contaminated product from PCA.

Clifford Tousignant

Clifford Tousignant was raised in Duluth, MN. An Army veteran and a family man, he was sickened after consuming peanut butter sandwiches made with Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter manufactured by King Nut and Peanut Corporation of America.

Clifford Tousignant was a devoted family man.

After living with his son, Marshall, in Minnesota for almost a decade, moving into Good Samaritan Woodland Skilled Nursing Facility was a change. Upon entering his new home in November 2008, Cliff was struggling with diabetes mellitus, which had caused nerve damage, pain, and numbness in his hands and feet, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), high cholesterol and autoimmune thrombocytopenia (low platelet count).

On Dec. 28, 2008, Cliff began having diarrhea. One of the nurses took a stool sample and had it sent to the St. Joseph’s Medical Center lab to be tested. Through the next two days, Cliff’s diarrhea got worse.

On Dec. 30, 2008, he was sent to the hospital in an ambulance. The treating physician believed that Salmonella was causing the problem. The next day, Cliff’s suffering continued, and the results came back positive for Salmonella.

By Jan. 3, assistance was needed for Cliff to get in and out of bed due to pain. On Jan. 4, Cliff was finally able to receive some treatment for the Salmonella.

On Jan. 11, Marshall stopped by at Good Samaritan Woodland to check on his father. He noticed that Cliff seemed lethargic. After noticing that his father was unresponsive, Cliff was rushed to St. Joseph’s Medical Center Emergency Room. Salmonella was still present in Cliff’s gastrointestinal tract, and his health was rapidly declining.

The morning of Jan. 12, 2009, Cliff was entirely unresponsive. At 11:08 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2009, he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Medical Center due to Salmonella gastroenteritis. He was 79.

Poultry ‘Feed Tickets’ Show Systematic Antibiotics Use

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 1:03am

On Monday, Reuters published its analysis of “feed tickets” from Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods in order to illustrate how U.S. poultry producers systematically feed antibiotics to their chickens.

Mills that make feed for companies issue these feed tickets to chicken growers listing the types, amounts, and FDA-approved purposes for each medication included. About 10 percent of the 320 documents that the news agency reviewed listed antibiotics belonging to medically important drug classes.

Here are some of the Reuters findings:

  • George’s Inc. issued feed tickets last year to a chicken grower in Virginia that show the antibiotics tylosin (classified as “critically important”) and virginiamycin (classified as “highly important”) were administered only for “increased rate of weight gain.”
  • Tyson Foods sent feed tickets to two Mississippi farms that show bacitracin and the non-antibiotic nicarbazin among the drugs in the mixtures. The tickets state that the drug combination is “for use in the prevention of coccidiosis in broiler flocks, growth promotion and feed efficiency.” The company said it uses bacitracin only to prevent disease, not to promote growth.
  • Koch Foods feed tickets dated from Nov. 30, 2011, through July 20, 2014, list low-dose amounts of five different types of antibiotics in feed given to flocks at one Alabama farm, including the “highly important” virginiamycin. This contradicted a statement on the company’s website through late August that stated, “No antibiotics of human significance are used to treat our birds.”
  • More than half of the Koch feed tickets that Reuters examined listed antibiotics at low-dose levels “for increased rate of weight gain.” The company said that it’s required to list these drugs as growth promoters because they can have that effect, but that it doesn’t use them for that reason.
  • Pilgrim’s Pride added low doses of the antibiotics bacitracin and monensin — neither of which is classified as medically important by FDA — individually or in combination to every ration fed to a flock grown early this year.
  • Perdue recently announced that it had stopped using the antibiotic gentamicin in hatcheries, but some feeds still contain low levels of one antibiotic.

The National Chicken Council (NCC) responded to the article by reiterating that the majority of antibiotics approved for use in raising chickens are not used in human medicine, and those that are will be phased out for growth promotion purposes by December 2016.

Can Restaurant Authenticity Trump Food Safety?

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 1:02am

According to a recent study published in the academic journal Management Science, consumers are willing to disregard a restaurant’s poor health record if they believe the products and services are “authentic.”

Inspiration for the study reportedly came from Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles in the 1980s that stored ducks by hanging them from their necks at room temperature. When the health department cited these places for health code violations, customers objected, saying that the method of cooking and storing ducks had been practiced for more than 4,000 years.

Researchers wondered whether hygiene or authenticity is more significant to consumers when the two are at odds with one another, so they analyzed customer reviews of more than 9,700 restaurants in Los Angeles County posted online and the businesses’ health inspection reports.

Authenticity can be very difficult to gauge, but to do so, the researchers gave scores based on certain keywords used in reviews. In comparing this score with the number of stars customers rated a restaurant and its health grade, the authors found that unhygienic but authentic restaurants were valued similarly to their hygienic counterparts.

Consumers may have said some negative things about restaurants with low health grades, but they usually overlooked the hygiene issues when they thought authenticity was high.

Judge: Subpoenas of PCA’s Past Lawyers Now ‘Potentially Moot’

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 1:01am

With jury deliberations on a break until Thursday morning, one set of defense attorneys involved in the criminal trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives appear certain of victory. These are defense attorneys the jury has never seen since they are former PCA business lawyers who, behind the scenes in the trial, have been resisting turning over documents they may hold involving the defendants.

On Monday, Judge W. Louis Sands issued an order suggesting the issue is now “potentially moot” because the evidentiary stage of the criminal trial ended last Friday, Sept. 12. In the order, Sands gave all the parties seven days to respond in writing as to their “respective positions.”

It marks the second time the judge has asked one or more of the parties to make additional arguments since lawyers for Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial of Atlanta and Meagher & Geer (M&G) and M&G’s Lenae Pederson, both of Minneapolis, moved two weeks before the start of the trial to quash subpoenas they’d received from the prosecution.

The subpoenas, which came 17 months after the indictment of the PCA executives on a total of 76 federal felony counts, sought numerous documents and demanded that the former PCA business attorneys be available for testimony at the trial.

Those law firms and their attorneys responded with howls of protest about work product doctrine and lawyer-client privilege. M&G hired two other big law firms to help out in the fight, Atlanta-based Morris, Manning, & Martin (MMM) and Faegre Baker Daniels of Minneapolis.

MMM’s Brian J. Levy wrote that the subpoenas imposed obligations on the lawyers that were “unduly burdensome, unreasonable, and oppressive.”

The lawyers who received the subpoenas worked for the PCA corporation before criminal indictments were brought. M&G and its partner, Lenae Pederson, represented the business in wrongful death litigation filed in civil court after the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak.

In that capacity, Pederson conducted an investigation and interviewed PCA employees, including the defendants. The prosecution first tried to get her to turn over documents by writing and asking for the information on June 6, 2014.

A similar request went to the Atlanta law firm that had managed PCA’s corporate bankruptcy. Both firms let the government know it would have to make the requests in formal subpoenas, which arrived on July 9. That was just five days before the trial was originally scheduled to start, but it was delayed to July 28.

The next day, Department of Justice Attorney Patrick Hearn, one of three prosecutors in the criminal case, told the business lawyers that the government was “seeking the production of notes, memoranda, or other document relating to interviews of PCA employees … including all e-mails or other written communications between PCA employees and the corporation’s attorneys.”

The government wanted the information by July 18, just prior to the date the trial actually got underway. M&G has 16 boxes of PCA documents and insisted that, at a minimum, it would need more time to review the material it had for “attorney work product and related issues.”

It was ahead of that deadline that the business attorneys moved to quash the subpoenas. After Hearn’s initial argument in opposition to the motion to quash, Judge Sands was not satisfied because he ordered the DOJ to try again and suggested it focus on legal issues involving attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine.

When it argued the second time, the government indicated it would be satisfied with any “verbatim or near verbatim” statements by defendants Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, or Mary Wilkerson about their work at PCA.

To Hearn’s statement that attorney-client privilege does not apply because the lawyers worked for the corporation and not its employees, M&G argued on Sept. 10 that this “is not necessarily the case.” Attorney Levy wrote “… the question of whether the attorney-client privilege applies depends on whether the individuals reasonably believed that M&G was representing them alongside PCA.”

On the same day, the government rested without being able to use any of the materials the former business attorneys still hold. Atlanta attorney Alan M. Maxwell at Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial pushed off most of what the government sought because he is a party of the joint defense agreement for the criminal trial.

If the prosecution has made a convincing case to the jury, this chapter will probably be quickly forgotten. However, if the defendants are acquitted or largely acquitted, it will likely raise questions in some quarters about whether the prosecution was ready for trial.

Black Pepper Recalled for Salmonella Risk

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 12:13am

Gel Spice Company Inc., of Bayonne, NJ, has issued a voluntary recall notice for 16,443 cases of Fresh Finds Ground Black Pepper in 3.53-oz. plastic jars because it has the possibility to be contaminated with Salmonella.

The product was distributed nationwide via Big Lots Retail Stores Inc., with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii. The recall was issued as the result of sampling by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which revealed that the finished products contained the bacteria.

There are 16,443 cases of the recalled product sold in 3.53-oz. (100 g) plastic jars with Best By Dates of 6/30/17, 7/01/17, 7/02/17, 7/22/17 and 7/23/17, with the Fresh Finds brand label with UPC Code 4 11010 98290 1 is sold exclusively at Big Lots Retail Stores Inc. The Best By dates are printed on the neck of the bottle above the label.

There have been no reported illnesses related to this product to date.

Anyone who has the recalled product should dispose of it. No other size container or best-by dates of Fresh Finds Ground Black Pepper are affected by this recall.

For more information, contact the company at (718) 702-1532 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT Monday through Friday.

Salmonella bacteria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (e.g., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.